On Monday, a federal judge ruled an Alabama law requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital unconstitutional. He claimed the law would impose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions by potentially closing three out of the five clinics operating in Alabama. These clinics employ doctors who do not live in Alabama, including one doctor from Nigeria. Clinics in Birmingham and Montgomery would be forced to close or employ different doctors.
Two clinics, Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood Southeast, sued saying they had not been able to get local doctors with admitting privileges to serve at their clinics and claim those provisions are not “medically necessary.” The law also requires clinics to be built to ambulatory standards and makes it a felony for anyone but a doctor to perform an abortion.
Comparable laws have taken effect in Missouri, Texas, Utah, North Dakota and Tennessee. Similar laws have been blocked in federal courts in Wisconsin and Kansas. Oklahoma and Louisiana have stricter abortion clinic rules that go into effect in September.
In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court ruled to affirm the rights of states to regulate abortion as long as rules did not put an “undue burden” on women desiring an abortion. Those supporting the new clinic laws argue that the restrictions improve standards at the clinics and ensure important protections for women. Those opposing the laws say they are merely veiled attempts to shut abortion clinics down, which is why in Alabama, federal judge Thompson declared the law unconstitutional.
Mississippi has the lowest abortion rate in the U.S., with four out of every 1,000 women seeking abortions. Gov. Bryant was disappointed with the court decision to shut down their 2012 law. Last year, Gov. Phil Bryant admitted, when a federal judge overturned the law, that their law was intended to protect women, but they also desired to make Mississippi abortion free. The American Medical Association opposed the Mississippi law but confessed the clinic does not “bother” to apply for admission privileges.
On July 18, Texas’ Gov. Perry signed into law some of the toughest restrictions on abortion in the country. The law not only requires clinics to have ambulatory access and admitting privileges at local hospitals, but also adds restrictions to the drug RU-486 and bans most abortions after 20 weeks. In Texas, one-half of all abortion clinics have closed since last year.
Twenty states have laws prohibiting insurance coverage of abortion under state plans. Ohio requires ultrasounds before abortions and doctors must give women information on physical characteristics of the baby, as well as details on family planning and adoption services. In Ohio, many private hospitals do not permit abortions, objecting on religious grounds. Kansas law affirms life begins at fertilization, prohibits abortion clinic employees from teaching sex education in schools, and prohibits abortion based on the baby’s gender.
Last month the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law creating 35 foot buffer zones around abortion facilities, saying lawmakers must balance public safety and access considerations with free speech rights. The Alabama abortion clinic law called unconstitutional by the district court federal judge joins many such laws enacted around the country. Some wonder if the controversy surrounding these laws will force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.
By Laurie Stilwell